Monday, February 28, 2005

Lebanon's pro-Syrian PM resigns

The Lebanese government abruptly resigned Monday during a stormy parliamentary debate, prompting a tremendous roar from tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in Beirut's Martyrs Square.

The demonstrators, awash in a sea of red, white and green Lebanese flags, had demanded the pro-Syrian government's resignation -- and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon -- since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri two weeks ago.

Prime Minister Omar Karami resigned in a speech carried live to the square by the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation.

After the speech, a Lebanese opposition figure called for popular protests in Beirut to continue until Syria leaves.

"The battle is long, and this is the first step, this is the battle for freedom, sovereignty and independence," Ghattas Khouri told a cheering protest in central Beirut, according to Reuters. ...

In his speech, Karami said he would have won a no-confidence vote scheduled for later in the day, but was resigning to avoid making his government a stumbling block to peace.

"I'm afraid we will have a vacuum in the country," said House Speaker Nabih Berri, who asked for the floor. "I should be allowed to say something." He was not given the floor.

Earlier Monday, demonstrators defied a ban and poured into Beirut's city center Monday to protest against Syria's military presence in Lebanon.

"We are asking for Syrian withdrawal," said opposition leader Camille Chamoun of the National Liberation Party, which has helped orchestrate numerous protests in recent days.

"The Syrian occupation forces and their security systems have to go back to Syria.

"We don't want anything against the Syrian people," said Chamoun, whose grandfather, also named Camille Chamoun, was president of Lebanon from 1952-58.

"We are not a nation that likes war. We just want everybody to be on his own side."

An estimated 50,000 people gathered Monday in Beirut's Martyr Square despite an order a day earlier by Lebanon's Interior Ministry for military forces to "use all necessary means" to make sure the demonstrations did not take place.

CNN's Brent Sadler described Monday's protests as non-confrontational.

"There is a standoff that is not in any way tense," he reported. "It is a mild-mannered ... standoff. The army and the police ... have ringed off a very large area in downtown Beirut." ...

"The free world is really helping Lebanon restore its sovereignty," Chamoun said. "I imagine there is quite a bit of pressure on Syria to leave. I hope they leave in a peaceful way." ...

Asked whether Syria was prepared to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, Shaaban said, "Syria has been redeploying its forces from Lebanon long before anybody in the international community asked Syria to do that."

Asked when that "redeployment" might be finalized, she said only that the two countries have "a schedule for the forces to withdraw" but not what that schedule stipulated. ...
The people of Iran are thrilled with the events in Lebanon. Soon it will be Iran's turn.